This summer my family and our friends Bhuva, Rohan, and Risha volunteered with SNEHA for 3 weeks. Rather than volunteering with a school this year, as we have done in the past, we volunteered with a public health organization to learn about a different part of the NGO world. SNEHA was founded by Dr. Fernandez in 1999. She had previously worked with premature and underweight babies who had been born into poor households. She would care for the babies in the hospital, but that would only provide a temporary solution to their problems. She wanted to provide a more sustainable solution. She went on to create an organization that would improve the health of people in the slums of Mumbai, intervening from motherhood into childhood. During our time with SNEHA we took walks through the slums, participated in a weeklong electronics class with the EHSAS program kids, and played with them before their sessions.
On our walk through Dharavi, I went with Lobo, Rohan and the community organizer Nazra. We walked through a small lane for about five minutes before settling into someone’s home. We were in the clay pot industry of Dharavi, and it was very smoky. When I was walking I felt claustrophobic.
The streets were very dirty and there were a lot of rats and trash. I learned from the interview with the mothers that even though they were only educated to the 5th or 6th grade, they highly value education, enough to know what they want for their kids. They want to send their kids to SNEHA so that they can learn about health, and nutrition, which they do not get at home. I also learned that in addition to raising their kids, they also cook at Sion hospital on a daily basis.
During the second week, we partnered with Shoebox Labs which is based in New Delhi. Shoebox is an organization that runs a series of week-long workshops for youth. We did the tinkering workshop which included; simple circuits, scribble bots, paper circuits, mini theatres and Rube Goldberg machines.
We had seen all of these activities the week before when we had done them in Sharanam, but had not had the chance to participate. The three who ran the workshop said that we must sit to the side as we may give them ideas. But in the second week, they seemed to be more open and allowed us to fully participate. While I was working on my own project I enjoyed seeing how different kids approached the same project. Some would focus on the electronics first, while others would focus on the art part of it. Overall I think that most of the kids enjoyed it because it was hands-on and they don’t get that in school.
We spent a few of the days in Kandivali. We go there early one day before the session started. There were a few other kids there and we started playing rock paper scissors and a few other small games. Then a teacher came in to give a talk about Malaria. She would be distributing the pills the next day at schools. If some of the children were not attending school as they were waiting for their results for 11th standard, they could come to her to get the monthly supply. After the lesson, most of the kids left immediately, but around 10 of the older ones were still hanging around. We first had a circle, where we did questions and answers. They asked us questions and we asked them questions. After that, we did some singing and dancing. This experience was good to get to know a few of the kids better and see what their life is like.
During the three weeks with SNEHA we did not necessarily volunteer with the organization as we did learn from them.
We learned about public health and how SNEHA improves the lives of the people in the slums. This year I saw a different part of India I hadn’t seen before. The only Dharavi I knew was Sharanam and that was on the main road. We went into the small lanes of the slums, saw the houses, and saw how they lived. It opened my eyes up to something new.